MN criminal law, warrantless garbage search

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: MN criminal law, warrantless garbage search.

State of Minnesota v. David Ford McMurray. MN criminal law, warrantless garbage search

In 2012, Hutchinson police received information from a mandated reporter that David Ford McMurray's daughter saw her mother with a pipe believed to be used for drugs. Police learned that both McMurray and his wife had previous arrests for controlled substances. An officer contacted the commercial garbage hauler that collected McMurray's garbage, and made arrangements to secure the garbage. In the garbage, police found plastic bags containing a white residue that tested positive for methamphetamine. Based upon this information, police obtained a search warrant and methamphetamine was found.

McMurray was charged with possession, and moved to suppress the evidence. He argued that the search of his garbage violated Article 1, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution. The motion was denied, and he was convicted in McCleod County District Court. In 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, and he appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988) held that under the U.S. Constitution, an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in garbage left at the curb. McMurray argued that the state constitution provided greater protection. The court first noted that it will not normally construe the Minnesota Constitution as granting greater protection for individual rights unless there is a principled basis to do so. The court first noted that the Greenwood case was not a sharp or radical departure from earlier precedent. It also found that the Greenwood case adequately protected, a basic right or liberty of the citizens of Minnesota, since there as no unique issue of state or local concern. For these reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.

Justices Page and Lillehaug dissented, noting that the garbage collector was a city franchisee, and there was little doubt that it would cooperate with police. The dissent argued that citizens have an expectation of privacy in the sealed containers they set out for disposal.

No. A12-2266 (Minn. Mar. 11. 2015)

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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